NEWARK, N.J. – There may not have been many quality offensive opportunities, but the Buffalo Sabres made the most of the ones they did have. In a low-chance, back-and-forth affair, the Sabres were able to prevail over the New Jersey Devils 3-1 Tuesday night at Prudential Center.
Chad Johnson needed to make just 18 saves to pick up his 22nd victory of the season. Ryan O'Reilly opened the scoring on the power play in the second period, Johan Larsson put one home early in the third and Jack Eichel scored on an empty-net for Buffalo in the final minute.
Jacob Josefson was New Jersey's lone goal scorer and outside from some power plays, there wasn't much else going on.
"It really was a boring road game. Both sides – we didn't have a lot, they didn't have a lot. It was a typical New Jersey Devils hockey game I think and we just stuck with our game and stayed pretty tight," Johnson said. "There were some calls there at the end that they got some momentum off of, but it was a good effort by us. It was a real boring game. That was a bad game."
Things did get interesting when the Devils scored on the power play with 5:29 left in regulation to make it 2-1. Josefson rifled one from the faceoff circle to Johnson's left.
Even after allowing that goal, Buffalo has killed off 26 of 28 penalties (92.9 percent) over the last nine games. Buffalo had killed off four Devils power plays before Josefson's tally.
They tested again just minutes after the power-play goals when Larsson was called for tripping with 3:44 remaining. Buffalo was able to kill it off and gain some breathing room with the empty netter.
"We gave them too many opportunities – six on the power play. It's disappointing to let the one in," Bylsma said. "I thought we did a great job all day long of killing and they got the play out of the scrum there for their goal and then we had with three-and-a-half minutes left to come up big with a penalty kill to close it out. I thought our guys did an outstanding job of doing so."
OFF THE DRAW
It took a five-second play and four crisp passes to put Buffalo on the board first.
On the power play with 5:48 left in the second period, Ryan O'Reilly won the draw to Schneider's left and moved it over to his brother Cal O'Reilly, who knocked it back to Rasmus Ristolainen at the right point. Ristolainen passed it laterally into the middle of the ice to Eichel, who one-timed it to Ryan O'Reilly, standing right in about the same spot he took the draw. Ryan O'Reilly wound up and slapped it in for his 21st of the season.
"Our coaches are always preaching, 'Be ready right away.' We have to make plays right away and be ready to shoot and make the right play when it's there," Ryan O'Reilly said. "I got decent wood on the draw, but it was a great play by Cal getting it back and then Risto to Eichs to me, that's guys being ready and prepared to go out there. That's the way we have to be all the time."
Bylsma said that while it wasn't a set play, it is something that's been a point of emphasis in practice and in film sessions.
"Coaches have been harping about having a shot mentality right off the faceoff and using it right there was a great example of that," Bylsma said. "It was not a designed play, but a great read by Jack on the seam pass to Ryan. There was no doubt about the shot."
The game also extended point steaks for Ryan O'Reilly (4+3 in his last five games) and Eichel (1+3 in his last three games).
"I thought we played a patient game. We played a good, honest game," Bylsma said. "There wasn't a lot in the game other than the power plays and we capitalized when we got ours."
ANOTHER GAME WINNER FOR LARSSON
Larsson put Buffalo ahead 2-0 just 12 seconds into the third period. As the Devils were attempting to break out from behind the own net, Larsson stripped Damon Severson of the puck at the right point and skated down the wing. With Marcus Foligno driving to the net, Larsson put a shot on goal and it found its way past Schneider.
"It was fresh ice so I was able to get away from him a little bit," Larsson said. "I chipped it over him and saw some ice there and saw Foligno going there and it went in for me."
With the goal, Larsson has 10 goals and 17 points this season. Both numbers are now career-highs for the 23-year-old center. Five of his 10 goals have been game winners. He's also riding a four game-point streak (3+3), the longest of his career.
Bylsma has seen Larsson play more confidently in the offensive zone recently.
"He's a guy that's shown that ability and skill in practice," Bylsma said. "Really, with the confidence in his game and the way he's playing, it's coming out regularly. He scores for us tonight – another game winner for us."
THE EMPTY NETTER
Eichel sealed the deal with a dazzling empty-net goal to make it 3-1 with 47.4 seconds remaining. Coming in over the blue line, he had to muscle around Mike Sislo and then work around a backcheck from David Schlemko as Kyle Palmieri slid across the goal crease to defend the gaping cage.
Eichel found the back of the net and four Devils were down on the ice as a result of the play.
"Right when you see it's a footrace, the whole bench is excited. He's going to get it or he's going to be very close to getting it," O'Reilly said. "You look, he puts it in, you see all the bodies on the ground. It was pretty funny to see, but that was a great play. That put the game away and was a huge play for us."
TWO TO GO
The Buffalo Sabres will return to practice on Thursday as they prepare for the final two games of the season. They'll play Friday night for the home finale against Columbus, which is also Fan Appreciation Night, before flying out to Brooklyn for Game 82 against the Islanders on Saturday.